"Mortal Kombat" stars Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, and Hiroyuki Sanada. Released on April 23, 2021, the film has a group of fighters battling to protect Earthrealm from Outworld.
The film features the directorial debut of Simon McQuoid, and it is based on the video game franchise of the same name created by Ed Boon and John Tobias. It also serves as a reboot of the "Mortal Kombat" film series. The video game movie trend continues with the latest adaptation of a franchise that causes parents to lose their minds. "Mortal Kombat" is one of the most popular gaming franchises to ever hit store shelves in terms of its characters and concept. But it is also one of the more controversial ones when it comes to its graphic violence, most notably the fatalities. The sight of someone rip another person's head out of its body was enough for people to push for the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board system. Despite all of the controversies, bans, and negative complaints from parents that it got, the franchise spawned many sequels, spin-offs, and two live-action film adaptations in the 1990s. The first "Mortal Kombat" film from Paul W. S. Anderson was a solid hit for fans despite some mixed reviews from critics and its soft-core PG-13 rating. Its sequel, however, well, I'm sure you know what happened with that one. Less than two decades later, the franchise finally gives the big-screen treatment another shot via a reboot, complete with a gritty setting and an R rating. So you better think twice before taking your kids to see this one, parents. While I haven't played the games myself, I still managed to follow the brand, thanks to its recent installments. Since then, I've grown to appreciate the characters and violent lore that made the franchise a household name. So it would be fascinating for me to see how it translates as a film as both a regular critic and a "Mortal Kombat" fan. Was it a flawless victory or a massive fatality? Let's find out.
The story centers on Cole Young (Tan), a new character created exclusively for the film. He's a former MMA champion who holds a mysterious dragon mark on his body. After being targeted by an assassin with supernatural abilities known as Sub-Zero (Taslim), Cole later discovers that he is chosen to compete in a tournament called Mortal Kombat, in which the winning realm will conquer the defeated realm. It also turns out that Outworld is at the brink of victory against Earthrealm, having won nine out of ten tournaments. With the world in danger, Cole must join forces with Sonya Blade (McNamee), Jax (Brooks), and the protectors of Earthrealm to defeat some of Outworld's greatest fighters. The film offered a fresh and grim take on the "Mortal Kombat" story that fans have known about since the franchise's humble beginnings. It also took some inspiration from the recent installments in terms of the character designs and some Easter eggs. Along with some memorable catchphrases and fatalities, those things are enough to satisfy plenty of fans of the video game franchise. But will the newcomers be able to enjoy it as well? Well, it will have to depend on how they'll feel about its story, which to me is anything but flawless. The prophecy storyline in "Mortal Kombat" was something that we've seen a dozen times in other movies before, and the narrative did happen to have some rushed parts that they could've expanded on a bit more. While the story's execution was reasonably decent, the film itself wasn't nearly as exciting as it could've been, even with its darker tone. What kept it from suffering a fatal blow was its faithfulness to the source material. You can see that Simon McQuoid understood the qualities that made "Mortal Kombat" a success for fans: the characters, the fatalities, and the characters' abilities. As someone who has followed "Mortal Kombat" for quite some time, I was impressed to see how well the filmmakers incorporate those qualities into this film. This was something that also made the "Sonic the Hedgehog" movie a success. Whether the film is good or not, they made sure that it stays true to the games it's based on. As for the cast themselves, I thought they did a suitable job with how they portray their characters. Lewis Tan delivered a respectable performance as Cole Young despite his character not being as memorable as the other well-known characters from the games. I also thought that Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim were well-cast as Scorpion and Sub-Zero, respectively. The former wasn't in the film that much as he only appeared in two scenes. However, Sanada's performance made those scenes worth watching, especially the fight sequences between him and Sub-Zero. The only actor that stole the show throughout the entire film was Josh Lawson as Kano. Not only was his performance highly satisfying, but his portrayal of Kano's personality was exactly on par with what I was expecting from him. Yes, he's a selfish jerk, but he's a narcissistic jerk that you love to hate. My only minor issue with Kano was that his constant use of the F-bomb became tedious after a while. The action sequences were also immensely entertaining, primarily due to its decent choreography and some brutal kills, and I do mean "brutal". If you're uncomfortable with adult-rated violence, this is something that you'll be okay avoiding. They were also backed up by some well-detailed visual effects, primarily for some of the characters' abilities and Goro's design. It almost had the feeling of playing the game without actually playing the game, which usually means that they did something right.
Overall, the 2021 iteration of "Mortal Kombat" tested its might and managed to come out on top. Its story does suffer a few significant blows to the head, but it's enjoyable enough to prevent a fatality or two. The cast was decent in their roles, its entertainment value was acceptable, and the action scenes were nicely directed and unsurprisingly brutal. It's what you would expect from a "Mortal Kombat" film and nothing else, which should impress some fans of the franchise. It's far from the best video game movie in existence. However, if you enjoy bloody violence and people with superhuman abilities, this film is right up your alley.